Blue Line Rehab to Make Only a Single Station Accessible

All buses are accessible, and the Addison station will soon allow a fully-accessible transfer. Photo: John Greenfield.

The Chicago Transit Authority will spend $492 million rehabilitating tracks and stations on the Blue Line between the downtown subway and O’Hare airport in an effort to speed service and improve the customer experience. But the project will make only one station accessible to people with disabilities, out of 11 stations slated for a rehab that are currently inaccessible. (A total of 13 stations are being renovated and upgraded.) The one station that will receive accessibility upgrades is Addison.

CTA responded to a question about this on Facebook, saying that they met their responsibility for the number of “key stations” that must be accessible when they finished the Brown Line rehab in 2009. While the CTA no longer has to upgrade existing stations to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, it continues to upgrade them. Of 145 stations, 97 are accessible — three were upgraded just this year in the Red Line South rehab project.

The question that remains is “Why Addison?” — especially when a report from the Infrastructure Accessibility Task Force in November 2012 said Damen, Belmont and Irving Park, and California had the greatest need for accessibility measures. The task force, comprising CTA staff, consultants, and representatives from the disability community, ranked stations on factors including ridership by people with disabilities, the number of people who live nearby and use paratransit, and senior services locations, among others.

Addison’s score wasn’t listed, but CTA developed a design concept to add an elevator, estimating its cost at $5 million. CTA spokesperson Tammy Chase said that Addison was selected “because of its ridership and the ability to make that station accessible.”

Weekday ridership for Damen, however, is more than two times higher than Addison. The agency also developed four upgrade scenarios for the Damen station, and it does look they they would be more costly. Two of the Damen options were estimated to cost $12 million and call for two elevators and possibly a transfer bridge. The two other scenarios probably cost more, since they include a new station house, though no estimates were given.

Damen Blue Line Station
The Damen station house will get new flooring, new lighting, and a new ceiling. Photo: Serge Lubomudrov

Chase said that the IATF report was “not a ranking of what projects were most likely to be completed.” She added that Damen has many challenges, because of how it’s situated among other buildings. Chase wrote that “alterations have to minimize impact to historical elements of the stationhouse,” an historical landmark, and that the station is surrounded by other landmark buildings. The deciding factor, then, was that Addison, with its single platform below the Addison Street bridge, has a “fairly straightforward” design, according to Chase.

CTA does have several other upcoming station accessibility upgrades: Quincy on the Loop elevated lines, Wilson Red Line, and the Washington/Wabash station on the Loop elevated that will replace Randolph/Wabash and Madison/Wabash.

  • shana

    But the Damen station house got new flooring one year ago…

  • CL

    This is so disappointing. Every CTA station should be accessible. It shouldn’t even be a question — I understand that funds are limited, and that it takes time, but elevators should be a priority. They should be putting in new elevators whenever possible.

  • Fred

    “This. So much this.” -Elliot Mason

  • I think the CTA recognizes this – because they *are* upgrading old stations – but the fact that they’ve met the requirement by having “key” stations accessible shouldn’t even be part of the discussion.

    The discussion should be centered on (1) how much each station costs to make accessible and (2) when will they seek this funding, if at all, to make the station accessible. The work in prioritizing stations has already happened (the IATF report is an easy read) so the easy part is done.

  • rohmen

    The CTA will keep stressing that they have met the “key” stations ADA requirement in any discussion regarding this issue for one basic reason–they’re trying to stem what would otherwise be automatic and costly litigation filed by advocacy groups and/or individuals to bring them into ADA compliance.

  • WestLooper

    Is there any data on the number of actual/potential wheelchair riders in the city?

  • Joseph Musco

    CTA referenced the wrong part of ADA in their response, which doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in their everyday compliance with the law as a whole.

    Sec. 37.9 references “key stations” and is about ensuring a minimal level of access (“key”) in systems when ADA was rolled out in 1990. The relevant section is Sec. 37.43 – Alteration of transportation facilities by public entities. Quote: “…the entity shall make the alterations (or ensure that the alterations are made) in such a manner, to the maximum extent feasible, that the altered portions of the facility are readily accessible..”. The formula for “maximum extent feasible” is roughly — if you can make a station accessible by adding 20% or less than the cost of total station improvements, you have to make the improvements. The rationale: access is a civil right, not a budgeting issue.

    The “entity” here refers to the budgeting authority for the project — it could be a DOT, a transit agency, or a municipal government. It’s possible that
    the City of Chicago is actually the “entity” responsible for compliance
    here — Forrest Claypool has said the Mayor is has ultimate authority
    over CTA and TIF funds that are regularly used in transit projects are controlled by the
    Mayor. It would probably take the courts to sort out who is actually the “entity”.

  • I presume so, but it wasn’t presented in the IATF report that I read.

    The report listed such data sources as “number of entries by people” using the RTA Circuit Breaker Permit (representing low income), RTA Reduced Fare card, Military Service Pass (representing veterans with disabilities), the ADA Paratransit ID card, Seniors Ride Free card.

    It also counted the number of registered paratransit home addresses (I think this is pretty important because it represents people who could potentially switch to taking the always-accessible bus to the accessible train station which would save beaucoup costs for the agencies).

    It also considered the locations of senior services and senior housing, as well as the “calculation of distance from the closest accessible station on the same rail line”.

    Addison reduces a 4 station gap between Jefferson Park and Logan Square. But making Damen, Division, Chicago, or Grand accessible would reduce a gap of the same distance, and Damen was the highest rated station.

    In the same gap that Addison reduces, Belmont and Irving Park were higher rated.

  • CL

    It’s not just wheelchair riders — a lot of people cannot take the stairs for various reasons, whether they use a cane, have a heart condition, or some other mobility issue. Escalators can help with the trip up, but then it’s just stairs for the trip down.

    When I broke my foot a couple of years ago, I had to use elevators, and they were always busy. I rarely saw anyone in a wheelchair, but seniors and young disabled people took them, along with parents with young kids (a long flight of skinny stairs is not optimal if you have a stroller and you’re carrying a kid plus bags). The elevators will be used anywhere, and they will improve accessibility for a range of people.

  • rohmen

    So, by that reasoning, the Damen stop would have to be made accessible if accessibility could be achieved for 20% or less of the total station improvements. Considering the Damen remodel is projected to cost $20 million total, ADA compliance would have to be achievable for around $4 million in order to be required under 37.43. The projected $12 million figure cited in the article to bring Damen into compliance is obviously pretty far beyond that amount.

    Not saying that the Damen stop shouldn’t be made accessible as soon as possible, but it seems like a pretty safe bet that the station will not fall under the ADA requirements in this round, regardless of who you consider as the “entity” on the hook.

  • Joseph Musco

    You give a good summary of the Damen case and ADA.

    The state law (the Illinois Environmental Barriers act & IL administrative code) uses 15% of the “reproduction cost” of the entire facility as a benchmark. So let X= cost of a Damen Station, Y = cost of including access, If Y <= 0.15X, then you should be adding access to renovations. If the cost of a new Damen station is $80M, then under IL state law this Damen remodel should be including accessibility.

    The estimate of Washington-Wabash rebuild is $75M. Other stations range from $50M to $200M+. I've seen the cost of adding retrofit estimated at anywhere from $2M to $20M per station. In the IATF report, there is an option to add an elevator to Wilson Station for $4M. This is now a $200M project with the decision being made to add two ADA accessible elevators to one stop. So there are a lot of choices being made here about expenditures that yield inconsistent results when it providing access across the L system.

  • Fred

    In the end its just a numbers game. If they need an elevator to cost $20m to install or a station value of $60m, they will certainly find a way to make it happen.

  • Brian S.

    I once did a paratransit related GIS project for the RTA, so I figured I’d add my 2 cents. Keep in mind that solely counting home addresses of paratransit users within the vicinity of a station isn’t by itself isn’t the true indicator of how many people currently using paratransit could switch to regular transit. There are three types of eligibility for paratransit: Conditional, Unconditional, and Temporary.

    Only those people with Conditional eligibility (meaning they are able to use regular fixed route transit some of if not the vast majority of the time) matter with regards to figuring out who may switch from paratransit. Not to mention, it helps to know how many trips those paratransit users are actually making.

    Also, some people with Conditional eligibility may have a disability where putting in a elevator doesn’t make a difference with regards to access; for example, people who are blind or otherwise have very poor vision.

  • Brian S.

    Making Damen and California accessible is more than just the cost of adding in elevators, because the platforms there are so far below the level of the floor of trains, that the platforms of these stations would also have to be rebuilt in order to be accessible. (Not to mention, two elevators would be needed per station, due to the side platform configuration). So this would jack the cost of access up relative to other stations.

    At Addison, Irving Park, and Montrose, the platforms are roughly level with the floor of the train, and only one elevator is needed per station due to the island platform configuration. Which makes me puzzled that IP and Montrose didn’t also get elevators as part of this project.

    I agree with point #1 that cost should be a consideration for where to put in elevator, at least relative to ridership. Although the combined ridership of Damen and California (3,601,668 in 2012) is greater than that of Addison, IP, and Montrose (2,935,114 in 2012), if the cost per rider is cheaper do so at the three median stations, then that is what should be done when $$$ isn’t available for all the stations.

  • Brian S.

    CL, you’ve got a good understanding of the people for whom accessibility is important (besides persons with disabilities, I think familiies with young children is a particularly important one, with regards to keeping families in the city), but there is one you forgot, particularly as this is the line to one of the busiest airports in the world.

    People carrying heavy luggage to an airport are more likely to use the O’Hare branch than any other branch in the CTA system. And yet, it’s the mind-bogglingly the last branch to be considered for step free access.

    I hope, that at the very least, when $$$ for elevators isn’t available, installing up escalators between the platforms and street level at all stations will be part of this project, which is not the case at any of the stations south of Logan Square. I think CTA really dropped the ball by not at least including up escalators as part of the Red Line interim improvements project, especially as that is part of the busiest branch in the system.

  • Thanks for the insight, Brian.

  • neroden

    Looking at this again since the recent funding announcement. IP and Montrose might just be getting minimal work (no structural work), but if they’re spending any real money on them, it looks like they’re opening themselves up to an ADA case.

  • Brian Sheehan

    It appears that the cluster of five stations (Addison, Irving Park, Montrose, Harlem, Cumberland) will be getting a total of only $25 million, and I’m not sure how much of that is going to the two stations that are already ADA compliant.

    Even if all the $25 million went towards the 3 non-ADA stations, I’m not sure if 20% of that total would be sufficient toward creating full compliance at all three stations. So I’m certain CTA is technically in the clear.

    Not that making IP and Montrose ADA stations isn’t very readily achievable though with just a few million $. CTA already owns the necessary land anyways.

  • Escalators take up an awful lot of space (more than an elevator, though differently shaped), and the Red Line station lots are all really cramped.

  • Ahh, but Addison transfers Cubs traffic from the Rosemont garages to the bus to get to games …

  • Brian Sheehan

    True; I was thinking in terms of replacing one of the existing stairwells with an up escalator at each of those stations (except at Lawrence, where only one stairwell exists). Shoehorning elevators into those stations would be very expensive work, due to the need to cut through the fill embankment to get to an end of the platform, the only spot where one could go to allow for adequate clearance at platform level.

    Already works with the escalator at Bryn Mawr; no reason it can’t work elsewhere on that branch.